“It offers something entirely new to Catholic higher education: worldwide access to a relatively inexpensive, authentically Catholic, high-quality, liberal arts program…” the Newman Guide to Choosing a Catholic Colleges on the Angelicum Great Books Program

Our Great Books Students in Washingonton, DC
Our Great Books Students in Washingonton, DC

Sensory data, information, knowledge, understanding, wisdom – this is the hierarchy of what we know, beginning with the lowest form and proceeding up to wisdom. It is not until we gain understanding – the knowledge of the causes of things and hence of universal ideas – that we possess something unique to human, for even animals possess sensory data and types of knowledge.  Higher still is wisdom – the knowledge of first causes, universally transcendent ideas and their proper ordering – which is the ultimate goal of any education worthy of the name.

Great ideas are not the objects of knowledge, as used above. That is why the grasp of them is not conveyed by a telephone book, dictionary or even discreet articles in a general encyclopedia.  When we think about the matters of common human societal interest, we begin to connect the dots across the various disciplines or categories of knowledge and we begin to understand. As our understanding enlarges it also deepens – this opens the door to the acquisition of wisdom.

The study of the great books, books that contain the wisdom acquired by the most profound thinkers of  Western civilization, which is the most widespread and influential civilization on earth, takes students by leaps and bounds beyond what they could discover on their own, even over the course of several lifetimes. It allows us to stand on the shoulders of giants and thus to see far beyond our own limited horizons and prejudices. No other such shortcut to wisdom exists, unless one has the great good fortune of knowing genuinely wise mentors – few of whom are alive at any one time. But through their books we can communicate with the sages of the past, even going back to the origins of civilization. This is why we study the great books, and why they are the most important objects of study once one has acquired and somewhat perfected the liberal art of reading.

Robert M. Hutchins

Along with Robert M. Hutchins, the first editor of the most widely read collection of Great Books, “we believe that in the passage of time the neglect of these books in the twentieth century will be regarded as an aberration, and not, as it is sometimes called today, a sign of progress. We think that progress, and progress in education in particular, depends upon the incorporation of ideas and images included in the Great Books into the daily lives of all of us, from childhood through old age. In this view the disappearance of great books from education, and from the reading of adults, constitutes a calamity. In this view education in the West has been steadily deteriorating; the rising generation has been deprived of its birthright; the mess of pottage it has received in exchange has not been nutritious.” The public school system has woefully failed in its primary duty of transmitting the hard-earned wisdom of the past to the present.

As we have amassed a comparatively rich life of material comfort, we have become poorer morally and intellectually because of the absence of great books in our educational systems and in our daily lives.  Mortimer Adler called the great books the backbone of authentic education – “the education that everybody ought to have, and that the best way to education in the West is through the greatest works the West has produced,” which in our view, is the best educational idea there is. That is why the founders and advisors of the Great Books Program consider great books the best instrument for education today.

It is not surprising that people unfamiliar with the Great Books do not appreciate their profound value for our society, and even oppose them in preference for other approaches, so we do not expect support or even interest from all quarters. However, we do believe this option should be made available worldwide for students who do appreciate their value.       –PSJC

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A taste of the wisdom of Socrates – the first philosopher

Employ your time in improving yourself by other men’s writings, so that you shall gain easily what others have labored hard for.  –Socrates

All men’s souls are immortal, but the souls of the righteous are immortal and divine.


A system of morality which is based on relative emotional values is a mere illusion, a thoroughly vulgar conception which has nothing sound in it and nothing true. Socrates

An honest man is always a child. Socrates

As to marriage or celibacy, let a man take which course he will, he will be sure to repent.

Be as you wish to seem. –Socrates

Be slow to fall into friendship; but when thou art in, continue firm and constant. Socrates

Beauty is a short-lived tyranny. –Socrates

Beauty is the bait which with delight allures man to enlarge his kind. Socrates

Beware the barrenness of a busy life. Socrates

By all means, marry. If you get a good wife, you’ll become happy; if you get a bad one, you’ll become a philosopher. Socrates

Death may be the greatest of all human blessings. Socrates

False words are not only evil in themselves, but they infect the soul with evil. Socrates

From the deepest desires often come the deadliest hate. –Socrates

He is a man of courage who does not run away, but remains at his post and fights against the enemy. –Socrates

He is richest who is content with the least, for content is the wealth of nature. –Socrates